George MacDonald.

The poetical works of George MacDonald in two volumes — Volume 2 online

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But thou a life immortal dost begin,
Where in one soul, which is thy heaven, shall dwell
Thy spirit, beautiful Unspeakable!


Now in the dark of February rains,
Poor lovers of the sunshine, spring is born,
The earthy fields are full of hidden corn,
And March's violets bud along the lanes;

Therefore with joy believe in what remains.
And thou who dost not feel them, do not scorn
Our early songs for winter overworn,
And faith in God's handwriting on the plains.

"Hope" writes he, "Love" in the first violet,
"Joy," even from Heaven, in songs and winds and trees;
And having caught the happy words in these
While Nature labours with the letters yet,
Spring cannot cheat us, though her _hopes_ be broken,
Nor leave us, for we know what God hath spoken.


I envy the tree-tops that shake so high
In winds that fill them full of heavenly airs;
I envy every little cloud that shares
With unseen angels evening in the sky;
I envy most the youngest stars that lie
Sky-nested, and the loving heaven that bears,
And night that makes strong worlds of them unawares;
And all God's other beautiful and nigh!

Nay, nay, I envy not! And these are dreams,
Fancies and images of real heaven!
My longings, all my longing prayers are given
For that which is, and not for that which seems.
Draw me, O Lord, to thy true heaven above,
The Heaven of thy Thought, thy Rest, thy Love.


Down a warm alley, early in the year,
Among the woods, with all the sunshine in
And all the winds outside it, I begin
To think that something gracious will appear,
If anything of grace inhabit here,
Or there be friendship in the woods to win.
Might one but find companions more akin
To trees and grass and happy daylight clear,
And in this wood spend one long hour at home!
The fairies do not love so bright a place,
And angels to the forest never come,
But I have dreamed of some harmonious race,
The kindred of the shapes that haunt the shore
Of Music's flow and flow for evermore.


Along the tops of all the yellow trees,
The golden-yellow trees, the sunshine lies;
And where the leaves are gone, long rays surprise
Lone depths of thicket with their brightnesses;
And through the woods, all waste of many a breeze,
Cometh more joy of light for Poet's eyes -
Green fields lying yellow underneath the skies,
And shining houses and blue distances.

By the roadside, like rocks of golden ore
That make the western river-beds so bright,
The briar and the furze are all alight!
Perhaps the year will be so fair no more,
But now the fallen, falling leaves are gay,
And autumn old has shone into a Day!


Mourner, that dost deserve thy mournfulness,
Call thyself punished, call the earth thy hell;
Say, "God is angry, and I earned it well -
I would not have him smile on wickedness:"

Say this, and straightway all thy grief grows less: -
"God rules at least, I find as prophets tell,
And proves it in this prison!" - then thy cell
Smiles with an unsuspected loveliness.

- "A prison - and yet from door and window-bar
I catch a thousand breaths of his sweet air!
Even to me his days and nights are fair!
He shows me many a flower and many a star!
And though I mourn and he is very far,
He does not kill the hope that reaches there!"


"Shew us the Father." Chiming stars of space,
And lives that fit the worlds, and means and powers,
A Thought that holds them up reveal to ours -
A Wisdom we have been made wise to trace.
And, looking out from sweetest Nature's face,
From sunsets, moonlights, rivers, hills, and flowers,
Infinite love and beauty, all the hours,
Woo men that love them with divinest grace;
And to the depths of all the answering soul
High Justice speaks, and calls the world her own;
And yet we long, and yet we have not known
The very Father's face who means the whole!
Shew us the Father! Nature, conscience, love
Revealed in beauty, is there One above?


When peevish flaws his soul have stirred
To fretful tears for crossed desires,
Obedient to his mother's word
My child to banishment retires.

As disappears the moon, when wind
Heaps miles of mist her visage o'er,
So vanisheth his face behind
The cloud of his white pinafore.

I cannot then come near my child -
A gulf between of gainful loss;
He to the infinite exiled -
I waiting, for I cannot cross.

Ah then, what wonder, passing show,
The Isis-veil behind it brings -
Like that self-coffined creatures know,
Remembering legs, foreseeing wings!

Mysterious moment! When or how
Is the bewildering change begun?
Hid in far deeps the awful now
When turns his being to the sun!

A light goes up behind his eyes,
A still small voice behind his ears;
A listing wind about him sighs,
And lo the inner landscape clears!

Hid by that screen, a wondrous shine
Is gathering for a sweet surprise;
As Moses grew, in dark divine,
Too radiant for his people's eyes.

For when the garment sinks again,
Outbeams a brow of heavenly wile,
Clear as a morning after rain,
And sunny with a perfect smile.

Oh, would that I the secret knew
Of hiding from my evil part,
And turning to the lovely true
The open windows of my heart!

Lord, in thy skirt, love's tender gaol,
Hide thou my selfish heart's disgrace;
Fill me with light, and then unveil
To friend and foe a friendly face.



A pool of broken sunbeams lay
Upon the passage-floor,
Radiant and rich, profound and gay
As ever diamond bore.

Small, flitting hands a handkerchief
Spread like a cunning trap:
Prone lay the gorgeous jewel-sheaf
In the glory-gleaner's lap!

Deftly she folded up the prize,
With lovely avarice;
Like one whom having had made wise,
She bore it off in bliss.

But ah, when for her prisoned gems
She peeped, to prove them there,
No glories broken from their stems
Lay in the kerchief bare!

For still, outside the nursery door,
The bright persistency,
A molten diadem on the floor,
Lay burning wondrously.


How oft have I laid fold from fold
And peered into my mind -
To see of all the purple and gold
Not one gleam left behind!

The best of gifts will not be stored:
The manna of yesterday
Has filled no sacred miser-hoard
To keep new need away.

Thy grace, O Lord, it is thyself;
Thy presence is thy light;
I cannot lay it on my shelf,
Or take it from thy sight.

For daily bread we daily pray -
The want still breeds the cry;
And so we meet, day after day,
Thou, Father in heaven, and I.

Is my house dreary, wall and floor,
Will not the darkness flit,
I go outside my shadowy door
And in thy rainbow sit.


Oh! is it Death that comes
To have a foretaste of the whole?
To-night the planets and the stars
Will glimmer through my window-bars
But will not shine upon my soul!

For I shall lie as dead
Though yet I am above the ground;
All passionless, with scarce a breath,
With hands of rest and eyes of death,
I shall be carried swiftly round.

Or if my life should break
The idle night with doubtful gleams,
Through mossy arches will I go,
Through arches ruinous and low,
And chase the true and false in dreams.

Why should I fall asleep?
When I am still upon my bed
The moon will shine, the winds will rise
And all around and through the skies
The light clouds travel o'er my head!

O busy, busy things,
Ye mock me with your ceaseless life!
For all the hidden springs will flow
And all the blades of grass will grow
When I have neither peace nor strife.

And all the long night through
The restless streams will hurry by;
And round the lands, with endless roar,
The white waves fall upon the shore,
And bit by bit devour the dry.

Even thus, but silently,
Eternity, thy tide shall flow,
And side by side with every star
Thy long-drawn swell shall bear me far,
An idle boat with none to row.

My senses fail with sleep;
My heart beats thick; the night is noon;
And faintly through its misty folds
I hear a drowsy clock that holds
Its converse with the waning moon.

Oh, solemn mystery
That I should be so closely bound
With neither terror nor constraint,
Without a murmur of complaint,
And lose myself upon such ground!


On the far horizon there
Heaps of cloudy darkness rest;
Though the wind is in the air
There is stupor east and west.

For the sky no change is making,
Scarce we know it from the plain;
Droop its eyelids never waking,
Blinded by the misty rain;

Save on high one little spot,
Round the baffled moon a space
Where the tumult ceaseth not:
Wildly goes the midnight race!

And a joy doth rise in me
Upward gazing on the sight,
When I think that others see
In yon clouds a like delight;

How perchance an aged man
Struggling with the wind and rain,
In the moonlight cold and wan
Feels his heart grow young again;

As the cloudy rack goes by,
How the life-blood mantles up
Till the fountain deep and dry
Yields once more a sparkling cup.

Or upon the gazing child
Cometh down a thought of glory
Which will keep him undefiled
Till his head is old and hoary.

For it may be he hath woke
And hath raised his fair young form;
Strangely on his eyes have broke
All the splendours of the storm;

And his young soul forth doth leap
With the storm-clouds in the moon;
And his heart the light will keep
Though the vision passeth soon.

Thus a joy hath often laughed
On my soul from other skies,
Bearing on its wings a draught
From the wells of Paradise,

For that not to me alone
Comes a splendour out of fear;
Where the light of heaven hath shone
There is glory far and near.


Of the poor bird that cannot fly
Kindly you think and mournfully;
For prisoners and for exiles all
You let the tears of pity fall;
And very true the grief should be
That mourns the bondage of the free.

The soul - _she_ has a fatherland;
Binds _her_ not many a tyrant's hand?
And the winged spirit has a home,
But can she always homeward come?
Poor souls, with all their wounds and foes,
Will you not also pity those?


Father, I cry to thee for bread
With hungred longing, eager prayer;
Thou hear'st, and givest me instead
More hunger and a half-despair.

0 Lord, how long? My days decline,
My youth is lapped in memories old;
I need not bread alone, but wine -
See, cup and hand to thee I hold!

And yet thou givest: thanks, O Lord,
That still my heart with hunger faints!
The day will come when at thy board
I sit, forgetting all my plaints.

If rain must come and winds must blow,
And I pore long o'er dim-seen chart,
Yet, Lord, let not the hunger go,
And keep the faintness at my heart.


I have not any fearful tale to tell
Of fabled giant or of dragon-claw,
Or bloody deed to pilfer and to sell
To those who feed, with such, a gaping maw;
But what in yonder hamlet there befell,
Or rather what in it my fancy saw,
I will declare, albeit it may seem
Too simple and too common for a dream.

Two brothers were they, and they sat alone
Without a word, beside the winter's glow;
For it was many years since they had known
The love that bindeth brothers, till the snow
Of age had frozen it, and it had grown
An icy-withered stream that would not flow;
And so they sat with warmth about their feet
And ice about their hearts that would not beat.

And yet it was a night for quiet hope: -
A night the very last of all the year
To many a youthful heart did seem to ope
An eye within the future, round and clear;
And age itself, that travels down the slope,
Sat glad and waiting as the hour drew near,
The dreamy hour that hath the heaviest chime,
Jerking our souls into the coming time.

But they! - alas for age when it is old!
The silly calendar they did not heed;
Alas for age when in its bosom cold
There is not warmth to nurse a bladed weed!
They thought not of the morrow, but did hold
A quiet sitting as their hearts did feed
Inwardly on themselves, as still and mute
As if they were a-cold from head to foot.

O solemn kindly night, she looketh still
With all her moon upon us now and then!
And though she dwelleth most in craggy hill,
She hath an eye unto the hearts of men!
So past a corner of the window-sill
She thrust a long bright finger just as ten
Had struck, and on the dial-plate it came,
Healing each hour's raw edge with tender flame.

There is a something in the winds of heaven
That stirreth purposely and maketh men;
And unto every little wind is given
A thing to do ere it is still again;
So when the little clock had struck eleven,
The edging moon had drawn her silver pen
Across a mirror, making them aware
Of something ghostlier than their own grey hair.

Therefore they drew aside the window-blind
And looked upon the sleeping town below,
And on the little church which sat behind
As keeping watch upon the scanty row
Of steady tombstones - some of which inclined
And others upright, in the moon did show
Like to a village down below the waves -
It was so still and cool among the graves.

But not a word from either mouth did fall,
Except it were some very plain remark.
Ah! why should such as they be glad at all?
For years they had not listened to the lark!
The child was dead in them! - yet did there crawl
A wish about their hearts; and as the bark
Of distant sheep-dog came, they were aware
Of a strange longing for the open air.

Ah! many an earthy-weaving year had spun
A web of heavy cloud about their brain!
And many a sun and moon had come and gone
Since they walked arm in arm, these brothers twain!
But now with timed pace their feet did stun
The village echoes into quiet pain:
The street appeared very short and white,
And they like ghosts unquiet for the light.

"Right through the churchyard," one of them did say
- I knew not which was elder of the two -
"Right through the churchyard is our better way."
"Ay," said the other, "past the scrubby yew.
I have not seen her grave for many a day;
And it is in me that with moonlight too
It might be pleasant thinking of old faces,
And yet I seldom go into such places."

Strange, strange indeed to me the moonlight wan
Sitting about a solitary stone!
Stranger than many tales it is to scan
The earthy fragment of a human bone;
But stranger still to see a grey old man
Apart from all his fellows, and alone
With the pale night and all its giant quiet;
Therefore that stone was strange and those two by it.

It was their mother's grave, and here were hid
The priceless pulses of a mother's soul.
Full sixty years it was since she had slid
Into the other world through that deep hole.
But as they stood it seemed the coffin-lid
Grew deaf with sudden hammers! - 'twas the mole
Niddering about its roots. - Be still, old men,
Be very still and ye will hear again.

Ay, ye will hear it! Ye may go away,
But it will stay with you till ye are dead!
It is but earthy mould and quiet clay,
But it hath power to turn the oldest head.
Their eyes met in the moon, and they did say
More than a hundred tongues had ever said.
So they passed onwards through the rapping wicket
Into the centre of a firry thicket.

It was a solemn meeting of Earth's life,
An inquest held upon the death of things;
And in the naked north full thick and rife
The snow-clouds too were meeting as on wings
Shorn round the edges by the frost's keen knife;
And the trees seemed to gather into rings,
Waiting to be made blind, as they did quail
Among their own wan shadows thin and pale.

Many strange noises are there among trees,
And most within the quiet moony light,
Therefore those aged men are on their knees
As if they listened somewhat: - Ye are right -
Upwards it bubbles like the hum of bees!
Although ye never heard it till to-night,
The mighty mother calleth ever so
To all her pale-eyed children from below.

Ay, ye have walked upon her paven ways,
And heard her voices in the market-place,
But ye have never listened what she says
When the snow-moon is pressing on her face!
One night like this is more than many days
To him who hears the music and the bass
Of deep immortal lullabies which calm
His troubled soul as with a hushing psalm.

I know not whether there is power in sleep
To dim the eyelids of the shining moon,
But so it seemed then, for still more deep
She grew into a heavy cloud, which, soon
Hiding her outmost edges, seemed to keep
A pressure on her; so there came a swoon
Among the shadows, which still lay together
But in their slumber knew not one another.

But while the midnight groped for the chime
As she were heavy with excess of dreams,
She from the cloud's thick web a second time
Made many shadows, though with minished beams;
And as she looked eastward through the rime
Of a thin vapour got of frosty steams,
There fell a little snow upon the crown
Of a near hillock very bald and brown.

And on its top they found a little spring,
A very helpful little spring indeed,
Which evermore unwound a tiny string
Of earnest water with continual speed -
And so the brothers stood and heard it sing;
For all was snowy-still, and not a seed
Had struck, and nothing came but noises light
Of the continual whitening of the night.

There is a kindness in the falling snow -
It is a grey head to the spring time mild;
So as the creamy vapour bowed low
Crowning the earth with honour undefiled,
Within each withered man arose a glow
As if he fain would turn into a child:
There was a gladness somewhere in the ground
Which in his bosom nowhere could be found!

Not through the purple summer or the blush
Of red voluptuous roses did it come
That silent speaking voice, but through the slush
And snowy quiet of the winter numb!
It was a barren mound that heard the gush
Of living water from two fountains dumb -
Two rocky human hearts which long had striven
To make a pleasant noise beneath high heaven!

Now from the village came the onward shout
Of lightsome voices and of merry cheer;
It was a youthful group that wandered out
To do obeisance to the glad new year;
And as they passed they sang with voices stout
A song which I was very fain to hear,
But as they darkened on, away it died,
And the two men walked homewards side by side.


When the summer gave us a longer day,
And the leaves were thickest, I went away:
Like an isle, through dark clouds, of the infinite blue,
Was that summer-ramble from London and you.

It was but one burst into life and air,
One backward glance on the skirts of care,
A height on the hills with the smoke below -
And the joy that came quickly was quick to go.

But I know and I cannot forget so soon
How the Earth is shone on by Sun and Moon;
How the clouds hide the mountains, and how they move
When the morning sunshine lies warm above.

I know how the waters fall and run
In the rocks and the heather, away from the sun;
How they hang like garlands on all hill-sides,
And are the land's music, those crystal tides.

I know how they gather in valleys fair,
Meet valleys those beautiful waves to bear;
How they dance through the rocks, how they rest in the pool,
How they darken, how sparkle, and how they are cool.

I know how the rocks from their kisses climb
To keep the storms off with a front sublime;
And how on their platforms and sloping walls
The shadow of oak-tree and fir-tree falls.

I know how the valleys are bright from far,
Rocks, meadows, and waters, the wood and the scaur;
And how the roadside and the nearest hill
The foxglove and heather and harebell fill.

I know - but the joy that was quick to go
Gave more knowledge to me than words can shew;
And _you_ know the story, and how they fare
Who love the green earth and the heavenly air.


Come to me, come to me, O my God;
Come to me everywhere!
Let the trees mean thee, and the grassy sod,
And the water and the air!

For thou art so far that I often doubt,
As on every side I stare,
Searching within, and looking without,
If thou canst be anywhere.

How did men find thee in days of old?
How did they grow so sure?
They fought in thy name, they were glad and bold,
They suffered, and kept themselves pure!

But now they say - neither above the sphere
Nor down in the heart of man,
But solely in fancy, ambition, and fear
The thought of thee began.

If only that perfect tale were true
Which ages have not made old,
Which of endless many makes one anew,
And simplicity manifold!

But _he_ taught that they who did his word
The truth of it sure would know:
I will try to do it: if he be lord
Again the old faith will glow;

Again the old spirit-wind will blow
That he promised to their prayer;
And obeying the Son, I too shall know
His father everywhere!


O Mother Earth, I have a fear
Which I would tell to thee -
Softly and gently in thine ear
When the moon and we are three.

Thy grass and flowers are beautiful;
Among thy trees I hide;
And underneath the moonlight cool
Thy sea looks broad and wide;

But this I fear - lest thou shouldst grow
To me so small and strange,
So distant I should never know
On thee a shade of change,

Although great earthquakes should uplift
Deep mountains from their base,
And thy continual motion shift
The lands upon thy face; -

The grass, the flowers, the dews that lie
Upon them as before -
Driven upwards evermore, lest I
Should love these things no more.

Even now thou dimly hast a place
In deep star galaxies!
And I, driven ever on through space,
Have lost thee in the skies!


Out of thy door I run to do the thing
That calls upon me. Straight the wind of words
Whoops from mine ears the sounds of them that sing
About their work, "My God, my father-king!"

I turn in haste to see thy blessed door,
But, lo, a cloud of flies and bats and birds,
And stalking vapours, and vague monster-herds
Have risen and lighted, rushed and swollen between!

Ah me! the house of peace is there no more.
Was it a dream then? - Walls, fireside, and floor,
And sweet obedience, loving, calm, and free,
Are vanished - gone as they had never been!

I labour groaning. Comes a sudden sheen! -
And I am kneeling at my father's knee,
Sighing with joy, and hoping utterly.



When the cock crows loud from the glen,
And the moor-cock chirrs from the heather,
What hear ye and see ye then,
Ye children of air and ether?

1_st Echo_.
A thunder as of waves at the rising of the moon,
And a darkness on the graves though the day is at its noon.

_2nd Echo_. A springing as of grass though the air is damp and chill,
And a glimmer from the river that winds about the hill.

_1st Echo_. A lapse of crags that leant from the mountain's earthen
And a shock of ruin sent on the river underneath.

_2nd Echo_. A sound as of a building that groweth fair and good,
And a piping of the thrushes from the hollow of the wood.

_1st Echo_. A wailing as of lambs that have wandered from the flock,
And a bleating of their dams that was answered from the rock.

_2nd Echo_. A breathing as of cattle in the shadow where they dream,
And a sound of children playing with the pebbles in the stream.

_1st Echo_. A driving as of clouds in the kingdom of the air,
And a tumult as of crowds that mingle everywhere.

_2nd Echo_. A waving of the grass, and a passing o'er the lakes,
And a shred of tempest-cloud in the glory when it breaks.


In God alone, the perfect end,
Wilt thou find thyself or friend.


They come to thee, the halt, the maimed, the blind,
The devil-torn, the sick, the sore;
Thy heart their well of life they find,
Thine ear their open door.

Ah, who can tell the joy in Palestine -
What smiles and tears of rescued throngs!
Their lees of life were turned to wine,
Their prayers to shouts and songs!

The story dear our wise men fable call,
Give paltry facts the mighty range;
To me it seems just what should fall,
And nothing very strange.

But were I deaf and lame and blind and sore,
I scarce would care for cure to ask;
Another prayer should haunt thy door -
Set thee a harder task.

If thou art Christ, see here this heart of mine,
Torn, empty, moaning, and unblest!
Had ever heart more need of thine,
If thine indeed hath rest?

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe poetical works of George MacDonald in two volumes — Volume 2 → online text (page 12 of 20)